Selqet: Ancient Egypt’s Scorpion Goddess

Editorial Note: This is the transcript of the presentation I gave on Saturday at the 25th Annual Fellowship of Isis in Chicago Goddess Convention. I added photos from my PowerPoint presentation and my references list.

Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us for this historic 25th anniversary Goddess Festival commemorated by the Chicago FOI Community! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Anna Applegate, I’m an ordained Priestess, and as a Polytheist primarily dedicated to the Kemetic or Egyptian Pantheon of Gods in my personal spiritual practice, I am very excited to be talking to you about the mysterious and powerful Scorpion Goddess, Selqet. I love Her very much. She features prominently in my ancestor devotionals and in the Spirit Work that I do, and I am deeply honored to ritually invoke Her in our Main Liturgy this evening, “The Mystical Awakening of Scorpio and Kundalini.”  

Since this ritual is our choice for our Divine Liturgy this year, I decided to bring with me, as my favorite show-and-tell piece, this colossal Selqet statue. It’s an exact museum-quality replica of the statue unearthed from the tomb of the New Kingdom pharaoh Tutankhamun, who reigned from approximately 1332-1323 BCE, by the famous British archaeologist Howard Carter in November of 1922. Mr. Carter described, when he first entered King Tut’s tomb on November 26, 1922, “Strange animals, statues, and gold…everywhere, the glint of gold” (Mascort, para. 18).

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My Selqet statue in my home temple space.

Adjacent to the young pharaoh’s funerary chamber was a smaller room that Carter called “the Treasury,” as it had even more gilded treasures than the funeral chamber or the antechamber themselves. In this Treasury stood King Tut’s canopic chest. Carter later reflected that it was “the most beautiful monument that I have ever seen—so lovely that it made one gasp with wonder and admiration” (Mascort, insert, photo caption). Made of gilded wood, the shrine contained the alabaster canopic jars that held the pharaoh’s preserved internal organs. Standing guard at each face of the fourfold shrine were giant gilded statues of the Goddesses Selqet, Isis, Nephthys, and Neith. Note how the statues were placed facing the shrine’s panels, not away.

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As a nine-year-old child obsessed with all things Egypt—especially the history behind Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and the legend of the curse associated with that discovery—this is how the Goddess Selqet first came across my radar. The sight of Her world-famous statue absolutely enchanted me. Was there ever a more beautiful funerary goddess? I’d had several deaths in my family by the time I was 10, but I thought death couldn’t really be so dreadful if this lovely Goddess gleamed in the Underworld for you. Death couldn’t be so scary if She were there to illuminate your way. And look at that scorpion on Her head—isn’t that just fun? Contemplating Her image brought me a great sense of comfort. That’s how my love affair with Selqet all started.

 

The Archetype of Scorpio: Sex, Birth, Death, Rebirth

As a Deity, She’s very, very old. In fact, by the time of the Pyramid Texts, which were recorded during the Old Kingdom (Dynasties 3-8, circa 2686-2125 BCE) on the interior chambers of several of the pyramids at Saqqara, Selqet is referred to as an ancient Protector of the Dead, along with the powerful Goddess Neith. Despite the fearsome association with the animal of the scorpion as Her chief symbol, Selqet nonetheless from the Pyramid Texts onward has cultivated the reputation of being a friendly Deity, willing to help other Gods and human devotees alike.

For those of you who are fond of esoteric astrology like I am, you know that the Zodiac Sign of Scorpio, ruler of the 8th House, doesn’t just govern death but birth or rebirth and the sexual energy that makes conception and birth possible.

constellation-3596291__340

 

And so Selqet, we find out, wasn’t pigeonholed in Her functionality in the religious thinking of the ancient Egyptians as “just a funerary Goddess”; She was revered as a Mother Goddess and Patroness of Marriage, the One Who Presides Over the Royal Marriage Bed, ensuring the baby’s happy conception and eventual complication-free, blessed birth. (Mind you, ancient Egypt had the highest mortality rate in the Classical world, so Deities Who performed Midwifery were very popular!)

Egyptologist Barbara Lesko, in her amazing book The Great Goddesses of Egypt, reveals that Selqet and Neith were depicted in the great terraced temple of the female pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt in the 18th Dynasty, from 1473-1458 BCE (Great Goddesses, 55-56). Selqet and Neith are depicted holding up the bodies of the God Amon-Ra and Hatshepsut’s mother in the famous scene of the conception of Hatshepsut. Furthermore, Lesko informs us that in Mesopotamian art, scorpions are depicted as lying under the beds of sacred marriages (Great Goddesses, 55-56).

The ancient Egyptians were keen observers of nature, so they would have doubtlessly observed that the female scorpion is a very good mother: she carries her young on her back. The Goddess Selqet’s associations with sexual fertility and motherhood now make sense. To quote Lesko, “Thus the positive, protective, and creative powers of these goddesses were not only associated with the throne or with the sarcophagus but were also constantly called upon by the royal family” (Great Goddesses, 55-56).

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Mother scorpion carrying her babies on her back.

The friendliness of Selqet and Her willingness to help those in need transcends the human sphere and affects the Gods Themselves. In a myth inscribed on another famous cultic object from ancient Egypt’s Late Period, the Metternich Stela (which dates from the 30th Dynasty, roughly 380-340 BCE), Selqet is shown to be a powerful protector of none other than Mighty Isis Herself.

metternich-stela

The Metternich Stela, whose foreground image depicts a young Horus (Harpocrates) wrangling serpents and treading upon crocodiles. The god Bes, Whose face was used in apotropaic magic, is depicted at the very top.

Isis, the magical object reads, having recently given birth to Her Son Horus, is hiding out from Her brother, the angry God Set, in the marshes of the Delta. Selqet takes pity on Isis and dispatches Seven Sacred Scorpions to serve as Isis’ personal bodyguard.

One day, after traveling many miles, Isis and Her Holy Arachnid Entourage seek shelter at the home of a mortal woman. The woman refuses Isis, horrified and repulsed by the sight of the Scorpions. BAD MOVE. BAD MOVE ON HER PART.

The Scorpions take this insolent bee-yotch’s name—you feelin’ me?!

Just curious: Are any of you in the audience Scorpio Sun Signs? [PAUSE] Oh folks, you know Scorpio is a sign that likes to PLOT REVENGE.

To continue with the tale: Isis, baby Horus, and the Scorpion Crew arrive at a second woman’s house shortly thereafter. This woman, to her credit, immediately welcomes Them all and shows great hospitality towards Them. Isis takes baby Horus to get some badly needed rest.

That’s when the Seven Scorpions have a pow-wow among Themselves. They just couldn’t forget—and certainly not forgive!—the rudeness of the woman from the first house where They sought shelter. They knew how They would punish her: They decided to collect Their venom on the stinger of the largest female scorpion among Them—giving Her sevenfold power (sekhem). This Scorpion then returns in the dead of night to the first house. After crawling under the door, She spies the woman’s infant son lying in his crib and she immediately heads over to sting him to death.

The baby’s screams wake up the mother. She starts screaming for help, and frantically runs from house to house in the village. Isis hears the commotion and decides to help the woman’s baby. She lays Her hands on the child and sings the poison out of his body. Predictably, that child lived.

The moral of the story? Well, (1), if a Goddess seeks shelter in your home while being escorted by some dubious-looking arachnids, you do your duty as a host and you welcome Her and Her entourage, no matter what! And (2), you realize that some Deities with scary attributes have a dual quality to Them: whether we’re talking about Selqet and Her venom or Sekhmet the healer Who is also the Lady of Plague, the same Holy Power that brings poison also wields the cure. But you’d better be on Her good side!

 

Moral Ambivalence, Anti-Venom Spells, and Divinely Protected Body Parts

Yes, there’s an ambivalence to Selqet, Whose Name, by the way, means “She Who Causes One to Breathe” (Pinch 36-37). I’m going to distribute Her hieroglyph of Her name, if you’d like to take a look at it.

According to Egyptologist Geraldine Pinch, “This is typical of the way in which the Egyptians tried to neutralize a dangerous force by conciliation and flattery. If the poison goddess can be persuaded to show her benevolent aspect, her power can be used against scorpion bites on the principle of fighting like with like” (Magic in Ancient Egypt, 37).

We have abundant archaeological evidence of anti-venom spells from ancient Egypt. Scorpions hiding under rocks definitely posed a threat to ancient Egyptian stone-masons working in their quarries, and scorpion stings were fatal to children and the elderly. So it’s no surprise that everyday, working people carried around protective amulets featuring spells meant to repel poisonous animals as well as cure those who had been bitten. The Deities featured on these amulets were Selqet; the young God Horus in human form (Harpocrates to the Greeks), trampling upon crocodiles and gripping serpents and scorpions in His little hands; the apotropaic, goofy-looking God, Bes; and the fearsome hippo Goddess Taweret, Protector of Women and Children.

 

Another method by which the ancient Egyptians magically sought to safeguard their health and repel poison was to catalog parts of the human body and assign a protective Deity to each. This corresponds to the placing of amulets on a mummy, Pinch informs us (Magic in Ancient Egypt, 142). If you visit the “Inside Ancient Egypt” permanent exhibit at the Field Museum, you’ll find an example of such an amulet-laden mummy.

In the Book of the Dead, also known as The Book of Going Forth by Day, the deceased Pharaoh Ani, journeying through the various levels of the Duat (Underworld), is equated with Selqet—specifically, his teeth: “The teeth of the Osiris Ani, whose word is truth, are the teeth of Selqet.” It’s an interesting association to examine from an astrological angle: one’s teeth and bone structure fall under the governance of the Zodiac sign Capricorn, and since both Pluto, the modern ruler of Scorpio, and Saturn, the ruler of Capricorn, are both currently transiting the sign of Capricorn, we have this death/Selqet connection really being enforced right now.

But it’s not just the literal teeth being alluded to in the Pharaoh Ani’s identification with Selqet: Remember the meaning of her name, “She Who Causes One to Breathe.” She can restrict or facilitate breath and thus speech, rendering Ani, and those of us following in his footsteps into the Judgment Hall of Amenti, “True of Voice,” meaning that we will be able to uphold Ma’at when our time of judgment comes before the Dread Throne of Ausar (Oriris).

 

The Feast Day of Selqet

In the Cairo Calendar, the Feast of Selqet falls on the 7th Day of the Month of Koiakh, which is the Fourth Month of Akhet, or the Season of Inundation in ancient Egypt. According to occultist David Rankine, this day translates to our modern Western Gregorian calendar as November 5th (Heka, 161). As this Feast Day ties in nicely with the time of year many Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate as the Samhain season, it feels especially good to welcome Selqet as fierce Protector of our beloved and blessed dead.

 

Sa: Spiritual Protection and the Sacred Number Four

That is certainly in accordance with the ancient Egyptian view of the spiritual protection She afforded—a concept the Egyptians called sa, and which they depicted in hieroglyph form as an elaborate, horizontally written, fourfold-looping knot.

The number four was very sacred to the ancient Egyptians: it provided the foundation for something to manifest, and so spells were often engraved or recited four times to activate them.

As a mortuary Goddess, Selqet is, according to the famous nineteenth-century British Egyptologist, philologist, and Freemason Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, “one of the four goddesses who shot forth flame” (Gods of the Egyptians, Vol. 1, p.455), the other three being the Goddesses Isis, Nephthys, and Neith. These four Guardian Goddesses of the Galaxy warded the dead, just as the canopic chest excavated from Tutankhamun’s tomb illustrates.

ernest-wallis-budge

Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge, 1857-1934. He worked for the British Museum and was a renowned Egyptologist, philologist, and Freemason.

The number four was also important to the ancient Egyptians with the internal organs they sought to preserve in the canopic jars of the royal dead; these four jars were, in turn, under the rulership of Four Gods colloquially referred to in the literature as the Four Sons of Horus. They were seen as pillars of the Cosmos, upholding all of Creation at the four cardinal directions; since the Human Form Divine is the microcosm of the cosmos, the Four Sons of Horus upheld the individual person after death also.

foursons

The Four Sons of Horus. From left to right: Qebshennuf, Tuamautef, Hapi, Imseti.

Mr. Wallis Budge was the first to give us the correspondences of the Four Sons of Horus, the mummified vital organs they preserved, the cardinal directions of the compass, and the four Funerary Goddesses. The baboon-headed god Hapi, Lord of the Nile River, preserved the mummified remains of small intestines in the canopic jar that bore His image. He was thought to rule the North with the Goddess Nephthys. According to a prayer Budge translated, Nephthys speaks: “I hide the hidden thing, and I make protection for Hapi, Who is in Me.” (The Gods of the Egyptians, Book I, p. 456).

The jackal-headed god Tuamautef had His image atop of the canopic jar that preserved the pharaoh’s heart and lungs. This jar was placed in the East with the Goddess Neith, a gender-bending Creator Deity as well as a Goddess of War, Whom the Hellenized Egyptians equated with Athena. Budge’s Neith tells us: “I pass the morning and I pass the night of each day in making protection for Tuamautef, Who is in Me” (The Gods of the Egyptians, Book I, p. 456).

The canopic jar dedicated to the God Imseti, topped with the image of a man’s head, had the mummified remains of the stomach and large intestines placed into it. This jar was placed in the South and was assigned to the Goddess Isis for protection. Isis says, according to Budge: “I conquer the foe; I make protection for Imseti, Who is in Me” (The Gods of the Egyptians, Book I, p. 456).

And lastly, the canopic jar dedicated to the God Qebshennuf, Who was depicted as having a hawk’s head, had the mummified remains of the pharaoh’s liver and gallbladder placed into it. This jar was placed in the West and was under the protection of Selqet (Budge, The Book of the Dead, p.cxxiv). Budge has Selqet say: “I employ each day in making protection for Qebshsennuf, Who is in Me” (The Gods of the Egyptians, Book I, p. 456).

canopic jars

In the words of a prayer from the Pyramid Texts, Nephthys, Isis, Neith, and Selqet guard the pharaoh’s mortal remains. The dead king declares:

My mother is Isis

My nurse is Nephthys

Neith is behind me and

Selqet before me. (Utt. 555)

As the canopic shrine from Tutankhamun’s tomb beautifully illustrates, this group of guardian Goddesses appears in freestanding images, arms outstretched, shielding the canopic shrine of the king from harm (Lesko 52).

An inscription in the tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of Pharaoh Rameses II (Rameses the Great), has Selqet speak:

I am Selqet, Mistress of Heaven and Lady of All the Gods

I have come before you, O Great King’s Wife,

 Mistress of the Two Lands,

Lady of Upper and Lower Egypt,

Nefertari, Beloved of Mut, 

Justified Before Asar, He Who Resides in Abtu,

And I have accorded you a place in the sacred land,

so that you may appear gloriously in heaven like Ra.

 

Honoring Selqet Today

In tonight’s Main Liturgy, I have the honor of invoking Selqet and Priestessing to the congregation in Her Name. Now that you’ve come to understand Her a little better, I hope you will choose to fully welcome Her energies, especially when I appeal to Her to “help us face the ordeal of Initiation with serenity” (Robertson 3).

For those of you who have undergone initiations, both magical and mundane, you are no stranger to the sentiment, expressed in tonight’s Liturgy, that “only through the sting can the stigmata of Initiation be gained” (Robertson 2). You’ve likely felt the presence of Selqet in your life before, whether you were aware of Her specific Presence or not.

I really do love this Goddess with all my heart. If you ever visit my home temple, you’ll find that my statues for Selqet and Nephthys, which stand on a shrine in the western-most part of my home, bear scrolls of the names of the dead in my family. For offerings, I tend to give Selqet figs, red wine, kyphi incense, and natron salt for purification. I wrote this hymn in Her honor on Her feast day four years ago, and by way of closing I’d like to recite it now:

My Hymn to Selqet

(c) Anna Applegate

 

Hail, Selqet!

Scorpion Queen!

Mother of the Seven!

Watch over the dead of my family:

Raise Your stinger in defense

against all forms of the impure,

against all hosts of the unclean,

against the agents of defilement.

Unfetter the mouths of my family in Amenti

Seated in the Blessed West.

O Lady of the Adze,

Unfetter their mouths

and let them Speak True,

You Who Cause the Throat to Breathe,

Lady of Heka,

Lady of the Beautiful Tent,

Friend of Nebet-Het and Her Sister Aset.

You know the Words of Power.

Speak them in my defense as my Khaibit walks in the Duat

Until the day I appear in Your house,

and I am welcomed

and I am prepared

and I am made strong in Your house,

my teeth made strong

to Speak True of Your Sekhem.

Hail, Selqet!

Nebet Weret! 

 

Thank you all, again, for joining us in fellowship today, and let’s prepare ourselves for “The Mystical Awakening of Scorpio and Kundalini”! Blessings to you all!

 

 

Works Cited

Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani, Egyptian Text Transliteration and Translation (reprint of 1888 unabridged original). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1967.

—–. The Gods of the Egyptians: Studies in Egyptian Mythology. Vol 1. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1969.

Faulkner, R.O. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

Lesko, Barbara S.The Great Goddesses of Egypt. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.

Mascort, Maite. “Close Call: How Howard Carter Almost Missed King Tut’s Tomb.” History. 2018, March. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2018/03-04/findingkingtutstomb/. Accessed on September 18, 2018.

Pinch, Geraldine. Magic in Ancient Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

Rankine, David. Heka: The Practices of Ancient Egyptian Ritual & Magic. London: Avalonia Press, 2006.

Robertson, Olivia. “The Mystical Awakening of Scorpio and Kundalini.” Sophia: Cosmic Consciousness of the Goddess. Clonegal: Fellowship of Isis. Available at: http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/liturgy/sophia9.html. Accessed on September 18, 2018.

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